When I speak with young black people around this country and particularly in Washington DC one of the things that is clear as the whites of their eyes is how little they know about the many magnificent contributions their ancestors have made to the world at large, and to America specifically.
If you wonder why black children suffer so disproportionately from low self esteem it doesn’t take a magnifying glass to recognize that most of the Black examples of brilliance, ingenuity and productivity have been stripped from the recollection of African Americans. It is a general rule that young people do what they see their parents do and for us, black folk, most of our role models storied accomplishments have been buried under an avalanche of white lies, deliberate deceit and blatant hypocrisy. It is hard for us to find ourselves in history books as they tell their story and conveniently leave our story out.
It is therefore with great pleasure, high honor and extreme satisfaction that I write the true stories of our ancestor’s greatness. When we remember our ancestors we are keeping the 5th Commandment of a very important black man, Moses; which states, “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the earth, which the Lord, thy God hath given thee.”
In 1848 one of brightest minds in the history of America was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. His name was Louis Howard Latimer. By the time he became a teenager he was dedicated to the abolishment of slavery. He left school early to help support his family and to make ends meet he sold an anti-slavery journal called the Liberator. His brilliance became evident as a very young man and he was known throughout his community to have bright ideas. He taught himself mechanical drawing and went to work for Alexander Graham Bell’s company. The truth is that most history books leave out the fact that it was Louis Latimer who created the first blueprint drawing for the telegraph and telephone.
At age 33 he invented the electric lamp. In 1882 he invented the carbon filament and at 35 years old went to work at the Edison Electric Light Company which eventually became General Electric. The brother is credited with providing Thomas Edison with the single most instrumental element in the success of the electric light bulb, which is the filament.
Most young black boys don’t know that is was a black man that is responsible for the first street lights ever erected in New York and Philadelphia. He supervised the construction and the logistical layout of the first lamppost. He was also commissioned by Mr. Edison to travel up north to Canada and overseas to London, England where he supervised the assembly and erection of the first public electric street lights ever to shine across the big pond.
Every black person in this country who has ever ridden on the railroad will be proud to know that their ancestor, Louis H. Latimer, invented the water closet (lavatory).used on every train running today. They should also know that a great many of their ancestors wonderful accomplishments have been hidden from them for the sake of racism and it is high time they learned the truth about themselves. When young people feel good about themselves their behavior reflects those good feelings. When you are stripped of your culture, your customs and your traditions your behavior will reflect that as well. It is absolutely true that hurt people, hurt people.
A wise black man once said, ‘know the truth and it shall set you free’. It is no wonder then that so many young black people feel imprisoned in urban ghetto’s where education has been taken from them by the psychological trick of removing them from their own past. It is hard to know the truth if you can’t find it anywhere. If we can purchase freedom with education, then what has miss-education bought us?
We must teach them.
So the next time you flick the light-switch in your kitchen, cut your car’s headlights on, or look at the back-lit screen on your Blackberry, remember it was a black man that made it all possible. Honor your ancestors, they deserve it.
Ty Gray-EL is the author of Breath of My Ancestors-Third Illustrated Edition and Ancestors Remembered-Diamonds from Coal. He is also Chief Communications Officer for the Empowerment-Center, a DC based 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the mental health of America’s youth and the uplifting of fallen humanity.